Just when you thought you’d heard the last of the coronavirus emergency, new COVID strains including one ‘nightmare variant’ are gaining a foothold in Australia.
The Omicron BA.5 COVID variant has been the dominant strain throughout the country.
But government health authorities are sounding the alarm about two new variants that have landed on our shores, including one dubbed a ‘nightmare variant’.
The variants, named BQ.1 and XBB, have been detected in NSW, Victoria and WA. They are well on their way to becoming the leading variants of concern, particularly XBB.
How fast are the new variants moving?
In Singapore, it took just three weeks for XBB to become the dominant strain. Authorities there quickly gave XBB the name ‘nightmare variant’.
BQ.1 is gaining a foothold in Europe and has been detected in at least 65 countries.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant told reporters that although the XBB variant was “the most vaccine-resistant yet”, it was still important to stay up to date with your vaccination schedule.
“We’re starting to see an increase in COVID-19 cases and changes in the variants circulating in NSW, which tells us that we’re entering the next COVID wave,” she said.
“By looking at all the local information we have, and what’s happening overseas, we believe COVID cases will rise in the coming weeks.
“The protection the NSW community has from vaccination and previous infection continues to reduce the risk of severe illness. However, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions continue to be at risk.”
In Victoria, hospitalisations increased by 20 per cent in the week leading up to 28 October. Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton has also noted the arrival of both strains.
“Victoria’s wastewater surveillance and clinical genomic testing program is actively tracking emerging Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and XBB, which are driving significant case and hospitalisation waves overseas due to their ability to escape immunity from past infection (including BA.5) and waning immunity from past vaccination,” Professor Sutton said in his weekly update.
“Surveillance shows the presence of multiple Omicron subvariants in Victoria including rapid growth of BQ.1 and XBB in the past month, with a combined prevalence of approximately 10 per cent in wastewater and clinical samples.
“Continued growth at these rates would see these subvariants overtake BA.5 as the dominant variant.”
Are we witnessing a ‘new wave’?
Infectious disease expert Professor Catherine Bennett told News Corp that Australia’s immunity levels should be higher than they were even six months ago.
Calling it a ‘new wave’ may be overstating things a little, she added.
“More than half the population has been both vaccinated and had an infection, and that does put you in a more resilient position in when facing future waves.
“We won’t see the same high hospitalisation and high death numbers that we saw between December and July, because that’s when all the variants were circulating and people were basically getting infected for the first time.”
Do these new COVID variants concern you? Are you up to date with your vaccines? Let us know in the comments section below.